The New York Times reports: For many months, Shiite communities across Lebanon lived in fear as car bombs tore through their neighborhoods, punishing Hezbollah and its supporters for sending fighters to aid President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war in neighboring Syria.
But Hezbollah succeeded on the Syrian battlefield in chasing rebels from the border towns where many of the attacks originated. The bombings have since stopped, leaving Lebanon’s Shiites grateful for Hezbollah’s intervention and luring a new wave of aspiring young fighters to the group’s training camps.
“The situation here has changed 180 degrees,” said Saad Hamade, a scion of one of largest clans here. “The whole story is over for us.”
While the civil war in Syria remains a grinding battle of attrition, for Hezbollah more than a year of combat has produced a new sense of purpose that extends beyond battling Israel to supporting its allies and Shiite brethren across the Middle East. And although its victories have come at a great cost in lives and resources, it has also gained the rare opportunity to display its military mettle and earn new battlefield experience.
“The fighting in Syria could change the entire balance in the region, and Hezbollah has intervened to prevent the formation of a new balance of power against it and against Iran and its allies,” said Talal Atrissi, a Lebanese analyst who is close to the movement. “This is its strategic vision.”
But the fighting has also diluted the resources that used to go exclusively to facing Israel, exacerbated sectarian divisions in the region, and alienated large segments of the majority Sunni population who once embraced Hezbollah as a liberation force. Some Sunnis now openly refer to the “the party of God” — Hezbollah’s name in Arabic — as “the party of Satan.”
Even Hezbollah’s supporters acknowledge that it is unclear when and how the group will be able to disengage from Syria. [Continue reading…]